Petty Concerns: How Culture Catapulted Pet Warehouse to E-commerce Stardom
Take a lesson or three from this homegrown Philippine start-up
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
When entrepreneur and pet parent Camille Sarte decided to take on the mammoth task of setting up an online marketplace and delivery service for pet food and products in Metro Manila, very few suppliers wanted to jump in on the digital bandwagon.
As with most businesses in other sectors of retail, at least back in 2015 when Sarte and her partner established Pet Warehouse, the pet industry remained tied to traditional ways of doing business. Whatever online delivery service that existed then would usually come in the form of individuals selling pet products through listing sites, operating out of their homes, and offering pick-up/meet-ups with buyers.
“It took us a while to convince pet retailers and make them understand what we wanted to do and how we wanted to legitimize and professionalize the online side of the pet industry,” relates Sarte. In the beginning, the founders had to bootstrap their start-up and agree to such terms as paying suppliers outright upon delivery of the latter’s products.
It wasn’t the easiest of starts, relates Sarte, with the company eventually closing down the side of the business that motivated the founders to start their e-commerce site in the first place: the dog section. “There are so many dog products out there — one brand would have 50 SKUs (stock keeping units) in just one category. It was painful to close our dog section because we just didn’t have enough money to bring all the products in,” shares Sarte.
Curiously, what ended up saving Pet Warehouse was the cat products market, as there was a dearth of products for cats available in pet stores. “Two years ago, you wouldn’t see a dedicated space for cats in a pet store. Cat owners had to go to Cartimar to get what they need, so what we did was change our business model from catering to dogs and cats, and just became an online cat store,” says Sarte.
It’s a strategy that bode well for Pet Warehouse, as not only were they able to provide most of the products available for cats in the market — “If brands had 30 SKUs for dog food, they would probably have only two for cat food,” says Sarte — their business also grew with the inventory, and Pet Warehouse became very well known in the cat-lovers’ community.
“It was a very risky shift that paid off. Now, if you talk to a cat owner, they probably know Pet Warehouse because they can get everything from us,” she states. Eventually, their fast success in the cat market led to Pet Warehouse reopening the dog section in 2016. Two years since establishment, Pet Warehouse has grown its orders per month at about 75 times. User registration, which started with 29 in its first month, now has a batting average of 600 registrations every month.
“The interest is there,” affirms the young founder. “Our repeat purchases right now is at 60 percent, so people are happy with the service.”
In an interview with Inc. Southeast Asia, Sarte dishes out the key strategies that “CATapulted” Pet Warehouse to e-commerce success:
1. They conquered logistics with their ‘Pet Heroes’
Whereas most e-commerce sites usually opt to partner with existing logistics providers, Pet Warehouse decided to make logistics a core part of their business by making it in-house.
Not only has this given them firmer control when it comes to delivering items on time, their riders — called “Pet Heroes” — also act as the face of their business, going out of their way to help customers and establish good connections with pet owners.
“Pet Heroes are not just riders — they’re the people our customers see, and we wanted them to be able to take pride in that. We wanted them to present the best versions of themselves because whatever they show our customers, that’s Pet Warehouse,” says Sarte.
To encourage their Pet Heroes to engage with their customers, they provide incentives like Customer Favorite which their riders only get when customers make unsolicited commendations. “We routinely ask people to rate us, but this is different in that, to get Customer Favorite, the customer needs to text us something like, ‘Oh my God, Jack was amazing.’ And it works — right now we’re rated 4.9 on Facebook, with over 500 reviews,” shares Sarte.
2. When it comes to their vision, they walk the talk
Sarte informs that Pet Warehouse’s mission is really “to build an ecosystem for pets. We believe that to make better pet parents, they need to have a support system, and that’s where we come in.”
When people go into a pet store, Sarte points out that it’s all transactional. “It’s an exchange of money and goods, and that’s it. But having pets is more emotional than that. I treat my pets like babies — those are my kids — and it’s natural for me to want to make that connection with fellow pet parents. It’s really all about building a community,” she relates.
Beyond Pet Warehouse, which supplies all the products pet parents need to care for their fur babies, the founders’ big goal is to have an ecosystem that covers, among others, pets’ veterinary needs, day care, a park — pretty much one area that is dedicated for pets.
3. They have a heart for their ‘furstomers’
While being a pet owner isn’t a requirement to work at Pet Warehouse, Sarte relates that eventually their employees end up acquiring a pet or two. “I think in our office, we have a total of around 50 animals among us — rabbits, cats, dogs, and even a hedgehog,” shares Sarte, adding that one way by which Pet Warehouse strengthens the pet community is by making it a platform from which people can help animals in need.
They’ve also partnered with such organizations as CARA (Compassion and Responsibility for Animals) and PAWS (Philippine Animal Welfare Society), holding donation drives with the non-profit organizations. “People want to help out, but sometimes they just don’t have time to drop off their donations to PAWS and CARA so we offer the chance to help on our site. People can donate to PAWS and CARA through Pet Warehouse, and we deliver their donations for free,” she shares.
This holiday season, Pet Warehouse also launched its first limited edition pendant, whereby 500 pieces will be sold at P350 on their website, with 100% net proceeds donated to fund PAWS’ medical projects. “We’re interested in doing this every year and hope to collaborate with celebs or designers to support more animal welfare causes,” shares Sarte.